The 55th Elmira Maple Syrup Festival was a golden one, as sunny skies, dozens of sponsors and hundreds of volunteers paved the way for a record-breaking outing. An estimated 80,000 people attended this year’s festival – one of the highest turnouts in the event’s history – which this year fell on an especially balmy Saturday, April 6.
The high turnout saw record funds raised from the event, with 30 charities and community groups in the region benefitting from the banner year.
“This year, we were able to give out $65,000, which is the largest amount we’ve ever handed out,” said EMSF’s Scott Billing at a meeting May 15 to disburse the funds.
More than just a celebration of all things local and maple, the festival is also a significant fundraiser with the money generated going back into the community.
“Now we have 30 different community groups and organizations that are receiving the benefit of our hard work, and the volunteers’ hard work, and the great sunshine,” said organizer Sandi Hutchison. “And then just to remind you that after tonight, we are broke again!” she added to a round laughter from the audience.
Amongst the recipients of this year’s fundraising were Kiwanis Transit, a door-to-door transit service in the townships which last year introduced its first ever regularly scheduled bus route to Elmira as a free service.
“We’ve launched it and we’re quite happy. It’s been very successful, and a lot of people have been using it,” said Monty Steenson from Kiwanis Transit. “It may not always be free, so any monies that we do receive from festival, we’re going to try and earmark that money to make sure that people that need this resource [can still use it].”
Elmira District Community Living is another long-time recipient. The organization has for decades offered living arrangements and support for people with intellectual disabilities in Elmira. Its sister organization, the Elmira Development Support Corporation, just completed its fourth affordable housing unit at the Field of Dreams neighbourhood in Elmira last month.
“Certainly, this festival has been a great boon to our association over the years. Historically governments don’t fund everything that an organization like ours provides: transportation, renovations to buildings, special equipment, etc.,” said Greg Bechard, executive director of EDCL and EDSC. “So this money goes towards purchasing those things, making sure our buildings are being repaired and people have what they need.”
The funds have also gone towards the creation of numerous affordable housing units in town.
“[EDCL] has partnered with the housing corporation here in Elmira and over the last decade with the assistance of this money to create over 50 affordable housing spaces in this community to the tune of over $6 million,” added Bechard.
Other beneficiaries of the festival’s record earnings included the Elmira Scouts, which last month saw its long-time member Brian Soehner recognized by the Governor General of Canada for his volunteerism in the community.
Woolwich Sledge Hockey was another group chosen by the festival committee. Besides building a formidable home team for Woolwich in the sport of sledge hockey over the past decade, the organization also helped bring the 2019 Canadian Sledge Hockey Championships to the Woolwich Memorial Centre earlier this month.
Contributors to the festival were also recognized by the festival committee, with Conestoga Contracting and Community Care Concepts being selected as this year’s Friends of the Festival.
There was a bit of bitter with the sweet too, as the festival organizers said goodbye to the committee chair Kim Dixon, who is stepping down from the role this year.
“Kim did a wonderful job while she was here as chair, someone who’s very energetic, positive, uplifting, and really hard to keep up with. Kim led us the last couple of years and has done a wonderful job, and we really wouldn’t have been as successful without her planning and filling in all the gaps where we realized we were missing something,” said Billing. “So thank you very much to Kim Dixon.”
With the festival over, organizers are already beginning the laborious task of starting all over again for 2020.
Recipients of this year’s festival were the 1st Elmira Scout Group, 822 Tutor Squadron Royal Canadian Air Cadets, Child Witness Centre, Community Care Concepts, Elmira Community Nursery School, Elmira District Community Living, Elmira Lawn Bowling Club, Elmira Theatre Company, Extend A Family Waterloo Region, John Mahood School Council, Kiwanis Transit, Maple Syrup Museum, Park Manor Public School, Pride Stables – CODRP, Region of Waterloo Library, Riverside Public School Council, Robin in the Hood Medieval Festival, St. Teresa School Council, Street Ministering Hot Dog People Waterloo, Strong Start Charitable Organization, Woman’s Crisis Services Waterloo Region, Woolwich Community Services, Woolwich Counselling Services, Woolwich Gymnastics, Woolwich Sledge Hockey, Woolwich Sun Ray Special Hockey Club, Youth Outdoors Day and YWCA of KW.